In the interest of time, I decided to dispense with Nebraska before discussing neighboring Missouri. In the Cornhusker State, two words describe Democratic chances this year: NO WAY!! Incumbent Republican Governor Dave Heineman is up 43 points the polls over his opponent, Mike Meister. With no Senate race, all three Republican incumbent representatives should win and fairly easily. Perhaps the only race that might generate some interest occurs in the 2nd District, currently represented by Lee Terry. This is the one district in very red Nebraska that went to Obama by one point over McCain and comprises the metropolitan Omaha region. Many in the Democratic Party believe that this growing population center in Nebraska is turning into a Democratic bastion in the state because of Obama’s performance in 2008. And, in fact, Republicans have faced some close races, but victories, in this district. However, the reality of the situation is that except for some 10 non-consecutive years, since 1951 this District has elected Republicans to Congress. The Democrats will not prevail this year although challenger Tom White has raised almost as much as Terry so far. But, this district bears some watching in the future.
In Missouri, incumbent Republican Kit Bond announced his retirement. One thing about this state is that they seem to split their votes. For example, they have a Republican Senator and a Democratic Senator. Among the nine Representatives, the split is 5-4 republican. Perhaps this is what gives the Democratic Party and other pundits the false belief that Missouri is a bellweather state for gauging national trends. This is middle America, folks- the gateway to the west.
So the open seat is a battle between two Missouri political heavyweights. In the blue corner is Robin Carnahan, the current Secretary of State in Missouri. Her mother was a former United States Senator and her father was a former Governor while her brother is the Congressman from the Third District. In the red corner is Roy Blunt, who currently represents the 7th District and he also is the father of a former Governor. And while Carnahan, like her brother, supports most of the Obama legislative agenda, Blunt has consistently voted against those items. So this election is very much a referendum on the Obama-Pelosi-Reid legislative agenda.
There have been ebbs and flows in the polling over the months since this race was anticipated before the June primary. Blunt’s lowest lead was 3 points, but he has never trailed Carnahan in polling thus far. In fact, he currently enjoys his highest lead- 9.6 points- in the cycle suggesting momentum entering the general election. And there is a realization now that this race may be beyond victory for the Democrats since the DSCC pulled money from the race. Since both candidates are well-known and hail from political dynasties, name recognition is not a factor. One would not know that from some political advertisements where the opponent’s family and siblings have become the targets of attack.
With name recognition out of the way, this election boils down to issues, particularly national issues with health care reform front and center. With Proposition C on the ballot- which would prohibit individual helath care mandates- Blunt has come out in favor of the popular ballot initiatve while Carnahan, in typical liberal/Democratic fashion, has a nuanced response that does not say where she stands on the issue, although one can only surmise where her sentiments lie. So given the growing support for Blunt, the Proposition C popularity and the DSCC pulling advertising money out of the state, it is a sure fire sign that nationally, the Democratic Party is playing defense. Initially, they thought that open Republican seats in Missouri, Ohio and Kentucky could offset anticipated losses elsewhere and possibly bolster their majority in the Senate. But the political reality is that they are now playing defense and may have written off the Missouri seat and shifted resources playing defense in Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and even Connecticut.
Another consideration is the fact that in order to win statewide, Carnahan must win the rural areas, particularly the southwestern part of the state. However, this is Blunt territory. And although Democratic Governor Nixon used this strategy to win the gubernatorial race, that strategy will not work in a Blunt-Carnahan match up. Many consider this state a bellweather state and thus consisting of mostly independents when, in fact, about 85% of the state is red and the remainder blue with no purple in between. And the red areas are very red while blue areas are very blue. These are difficult odds for Carnahan to overcome and it is showing in the polls. And while the DSCC can always invest the $1.5 million they previously allocated, it would come at a higher advertising rate and it may be too much, too late.
In the Congressional races, of the five Republicans, only the 7th District is open due to the impending promotion of Blunt to the Senate. Normally, this may present an opening for the opposition party to pick up a seat in an open seat election. However, Republican Billy Long has a 82 point lead on his Democratic opponent. And this is a district that gave McCain his largest margin of victory over Obama in 2008 among Missouri’s nine districts. It is in the aforementioned southwestern rural portion of the state and is the most Republican district (+17 Republican Cook PVI) in Missouri. Democrats also thought they had a chance against incumbent Republican Jo Ann Emerson in the 8th District. However, recent polls show Emerson with a 47 point lead and polling over the 60% mark. Their belief is predicated upon the fact that Democratic candidates have usually polled well, if not winning. Without a doubt, the race will be closer than the current 47 point margin in the polls, but her victory will be a lot larger than Republican victories in the past.
Three of the four Democratic-held districts are safe for the incumbent party- the First, Third and Fifth Districts. All are urban districts while one actually has a black majority, a second has a very large black population, and the third is represented by the aforementioned Russ Carnahan, a mainstay. That leaves only the 4th District represented by Ike Skelton and opposed by Vicki Hartzler (yes, Howard Dean, there are women in the GOP). If ever there was a district ripe for the taking in Missouri, this would be it. Given overall anti-incumbent sentiment, Skelton fits that bill to a tee having represented the District since 1977. And although Skelton may lead by 7 points in the polls, there are very few polls to reliably reach a conclusion.
And here is why Skelton is in trouble this year. First, he represents a largely rural district rated +14 Republican on the Cook PVI. This district favored McCain over Obama by 23 points in 2008. Skelton is out-raising Hartzler 5-1, yet cannot shake her in the polls. And although Skelton sides with conservatives on the social issues and voted against Obamacare, he did vote for some other liberal initiatives like the stimulus bill. Start with his 7-point lead and start subtracting points for the anti-incumbent sentiment and some more points for top-down voter behavior (Blunt over Carnahan), Hartzler would definitely fall within any poll’s margin of error. That is not good news for an incumbent Congressman who has held power since 1977. It would appear that as the election nears, more voters will decide there is time for a change in Washington and Skelton will be a casualty in Missouri. In fact, usually I don’t like to “predict” races without additional polling data, but I would venture that Skelton will lose this race, as will Carnahan. Hence, Republicans pick up one seat in Missouri and retain their Senate seat.